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Pressing on at war when 'good men' die

  • Story Highlights
  • Staff Sgt. David Julian was one of five soldiers killed in suicide blast in March
  • Julian told CNN in September he believed in the Iraq mission
  • Surviving comrades say they think about that fateful day all the time
  • Soldier: "They were all good men. What happened to them shouldn't happen."
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By Arwa Damon
CNN
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- U.S. Army Staff Sgt. David Julian believed in America's mission in Iraq.

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Soldiers David Julian, left, and Ernesto Cimarrusti were killed along with three other comrades on March 10.

"It's not all fame and glory. There are a lot of hard times out here. But without Americans willing to pay the price, who's going to?" Julian told CNN in September when we first met him and the men of Delta company.

The 31-year-old father of a young girl believed that the long, exhausting hours in Iraq and the "miserable as hell" living conditions at his base were all worth it -- especially for Iraq's children.

"You go downtown and you got 15 kids that run up to your Humvee ... telling you how much they like you, running right up to you like you are a king," he said. "Makes it worth it to know you can help with a future for the kids."

On March 10, Julian and four other soldiers and their interpreter were killed when a suicide bomber walked into the middle of their patrol and detonated himself. The soldiers killed with Julian were Staff Sgt. Shawn Suzch, 32; Staff Sgt. Ernesto Cimarrusti, 25; Cpl. Scott McIntosh, 26; and Cpl. Robert McDavid, 29.

More than two months later, the surviving members of Delta company remember the fallen every second of every day. And they have no choice but to control their emotions and press on with their daily duties. Video Watch soldiers push on in battle while still mourning »

"It's hard because the thought -- the possibility of losing more guys -- it's a possibility that happens every day we go out," Pfc. Erroll McHugh says as he carefully scans the Baghdad streets, perched in the gunner's hatch of the Humvee.

"But it's what they would want. They wouldn't want us just sitting around mourning for them. They would want us out doing our job."

On the day of the attack, McHugh was on foot, about 25 to 30 feet away from the bomber.

"There's not a day gone by that I don't see the incident over -- that I don't think about it. I'm not going to lie, it makes me mad. I feel a lot of hatred, but it's my job. I was trained for it."

Sgt. Robert Hutson also remembers that day well.

"I was mounted," he says. "There were four people on the trucks at the time. [The bomber] walked right between two of my trucks -- right behind me, like 10 feet behind me. The vest was plastered to him. There was no way we could tell. And he just set himself off."

Hutson pauses. Shrapnel tore through his helmet, and he was forced to become the senior commander on the ground because his top three commanders were felled by the blast. "Pretty rough day."

Lt. Gregory Fredlund, the platoon commander, was in America on leave. He received the news on the phone.

"When I came back to Iraq, the platoon was in pieces. All their leadership had fallen," Fredlund says.

Around him, his soldiers now joke and give each other a hard time to keep their thoughts from drifting. Fredlund smiles. "It's good to see them that way. They weren't that way for some time after the tragedy."

According to the latest numbers from the Department of Defense, 4,080 U.S. troops have lost their lives in Iraq. iReporters share their memories of the fallen »

For the soldiers still fighting the war, they draw strength on the strong bonds created among their units -- a bond strengthened by the horrors they experience in the field and a pure desire to help each other get home alive. And so they persevere.

"To tell you the truth, I have got soldiers underneath me," Hutson says. "If I break down, then they won't know what to do. I mean I kind of have to do it for them. And you can't show emotion over here. If you do, you just get ate up. You just can't let it get to you."

Capt. Wes Wilhite, the company commander, says he knows a lot of his soldiers have "some form of pent-up anger in them, but at the same time they are trained" to deal with the loss of comrades.

"I am really proud of these guys," he says. "Those five, just like everybody else who has laid down their life out here, they gave up everything, they sacrificed everything for what America is all about."

Spc. Thomas Weber says he'll most remember Julian and Suzch for becoming proud fathers of little girls while they were stationed in Iraq.

"I am glad that they got to meet their daughters -- something [the girls] won't remember, but when they grow up their mothers will be able to tell them that they met their fathers. They were all good men. What happened to them shouldn't happen."

This Memorial Day there won't be a ceremony at this small base. The pain of what happened two months ago is just too raw.

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Fredlund says he wishes all his soldiers were returning to America alive to be with their families at the end of their tours.

"I would have loved to bring all my men home. I would love that more than anything," he says. "To not be able to do that, it's going to be very bittersweet going back."

All About War and ConflictIraq WarBaghdad

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